News, nuggets and longreads 13 May 2023: Boom Bang a Bang

Here’s our regular round-up of the best reading about beer and pubs from the past week, including Jewish hop merchants, Bristol breweries and hazy IPA.

First, some local news: Bristol brewery Dawkins Ales has announced it is closing its brewery. That’s two breweries Bristol has lost this year, the other being Newtown Park, and three if you count the Wild Beer Co. Five pubs under the Dawkins Taverns umbrella will continue trading, but without Dawkins beer – creating opportunities for the Bristol breweries that remain, we suppose, as they too struggle in a challenging market.

And there’s also an update on last week’s story about Brew by Numbers. Last week, we used the phrase ‘shutting up’ as shorthand when ‘called in the administrators’ would have been more accurate – and was, indeed, the language used in the report we linked to. A week on, the London brewery has issued its own statement:

“[We] have relocated our business to a new site in Greenwich to expand and address the financial impacts of the pandemic. Regrettably, despite our best efforts, we have had to close our Bermondsey site due to the combined COVID-19 debt burden and the recent cost of living crisis… Moving forward we are now pleased to report that we are in the final stages of securing a deal as part of a restructuring process that will bring in new investors with financial expertise to ensure our future success.”

So, as 2023 winds on, breweries continue to struggle; some close; some are saved; and some close, while their brands live on. It still doesn’t feel apocalyptic to us, though. You might look at 2019, the last ‘normal’ year, for reassurance that closures do happen.

Fire escapes on a typical New York building.
Williamsburg, New York. SOURCE: Nelson Ndongala on Unsplash.

At Good Beer Hunting Courtney Iseman offers notes on the New York beer scene as both a microhistory and a personal memoir:

1992 also saw the opening of another seminal New York beer bar: Mugs Ale House, founded by Ed Berestecki in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Compared to the high camp of Burp Castle, Mugs was a good, old-fashioned tavern that felt like it had been there for a hundred years, with a cast of regulars as firmly rooted as the barstools on which they sat… As former bartender Hayley Karl recalls, many of those regulars were early beer industry members and craft beer fans… For me, Mugs existed in that liminal space between an explicitly craft-focused beer bar and a divey pub… Karl regales me with stories from what she calls the best bartending job she’s ever had… “It was like the HBO version of ‘Cheers.’ Where everybody knows … you got stabbed,” she quips.

The tops of wonky old timber-framed buildings in Bamberg.

For the same publication Tasha Prados has written about the part Jewish people played in the brewing industry of Bamberg, Germany’s “beer capital”:

In Bamberg, Jewish families came to govern the hop trade in what was then one of the main nodes of the global hop business. Markus Raupach, the Bamberg-based author of “Bier: Geschichte und Genuss” (or “Beer: History and Enjoyment”), says that Jewish hop traders in his city benefited from their international contacts, which gave them a highly productive network that transcended language barriers. This allowed them to quickly implement innovations from abroad, he notes, and gave them the means to make up for poor regional harvests with imported hops… Christian Kestel, economic historian at Weyermann Specialty Malting, says that over 100 Jewish firms and families dominated Bamberg’s hop trading business by the end of the 19th century.

A sign for a pub called The Crown.

At The Conversation Ian Shaw has written about how business have used, and continue to use, the imagery of royal crowns to borrow “majesty, authority and sovereignty” for themselves:

The Danish royal warrant entitles an organisation to display “an image of the crown along with the company’s name on signs”. Carlsberg beer is a prominent example of this… Of course, while some brands have an official royal endorsement, most organisations with a crown name or logo do not have a direct association with monarchy. Sometimes the crown brand name is used for its cultural associations – see the many British pubs called “The Crown”… The Mexican beer brand Corona, which uses both a crown name and logo, is the most valuable beer brand in the world, worth US$7 billion.

Cloudwater DIPA V 10 surrounded by steam.

A lot of breweries and beer institutions are turning 10 this year, observes Mark Dredge in his latest piece for Ferment, the promo mag of a beer subscription service. He looks back on the past decade and draws out some trends and key themes:

The IPAs of 2013 were so bright you could read that year’s best-of list through any of the beers. Sparkling and golden-amber in colour, they were simply American IPAs and didn’t need a West Coast prefix to make drinkers realise it’s not a hazy New England beer – the whole prospect of a cloudy yellow IPA was still a curiosity. Viewed from 2023, where almost all IPAs (and Pale Ales) are now at least a bit hazy, and many are totally opaque with a mouthfeel often described with adjectives like smooth, thick and juicy, those original West Coasters feel like a throwback. That clean clarity and crispness of flavour has gone sweet and squidgy, and it’s not just the IPAs.

This is fascinating to us because we’ve got our own data points: our book Brew Britannia which came out in 2014 had hazy beer as an outlying but potentially significant trend. And in 2015, when we wrote an update, we titled it ‘The Good, the Bad & the Murky’.

Finally, from Instagram, just one of the many excellent beer- or pub-related pictures posted by Natalie Ainscough in recent weeks:

For more good reading check out Stan Hieronymus’s round-up from Monday and Alan McLeod’s from Thursday.

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